Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free is a book that’s very clear about what it is and what it isn’t. What it is: a toolkit for anyone with a stake in making a “creative wage” out of our digital culture. This mainly comes down to a discussion of the ramifications of “copyfight”: the ongoing series of legal battles over copyright law relating to the internet – a struggle that author Cory Doctorow has been prominently involved in for years.
What the book isn’t: a look into the future. Doctorow, who has also authored numerous works of science fiction, is the first to admit that SF writers always get the future wrong. (Everybody gets the future wrong.) His book promises to “equip you with the critical skills required to have a non-zero chance of making a living as an artist today, in the world as it is.”
Doctorow is the ideal person to write such a book. Though he may be wrong, he tells us, he will at least be well informed. And so he is. His arguments are entertainingly presented, forcefully made, and easy to follow. The book is organized around three basic “laws,” and the toolkit is handily boiled down to three main points at the end.
If there is a caveat, it’s that Doctorow’s prescriptions are closely tied to what has worked for him. His vision of an optimal state of affairs is attractive. He is against over-regulation of “the nervous system of the twenty-first century,” and wants to see the arts develop on the internet in the freest, most diversified way possible.
But would this best of all possible worlds lead to the best set of outcomes for artists? Would it raise all boats, or result in greater inequality? Would it lead to the creation of better, more diverse art, or would it create a global, homogenized mass culture? While Doctorow is persuasive when taking on the current power structure, we also need to be careful about what he’s wishing for.